The Expectations We Face As British Muslims

A communal sense of British identity or image that could represent a diverse London is necessary to overcome the convoluted understanding of what it means to be British.

A communal sense of British identity or image that could represent a diverse London is necessary to overcome the convoluted understanding of what it means to be British.

Minority communities in London have suffered from a sense of identity which causes abandonment of religious, cultural, and personal values.

It is apparent that we were not instructed to do so, but it can be said that their abandonment roots in feelings of inadequacy and difference. Difference from the vogue.  

I want to address the need minorities feel to live up to the idealised western citizen; one who rejects their personal/cultural values and adopts a western image.

This exaggerated representation can be found in Shamima Begum, a 21-year-old woman who left the country at 15 for ISIL. On the 19th of  February, 2019 the Home Office deprived British-born Shamimah Begum of her citizenship after being groomed at 15 and running away to Syria. Ironic; though, whilst she is ethnically  Bangladeshi, she never had visited the country. 

A Home Office spokesperson said: 

“In recent days the Home Secretary has clearly stated that his priority is the safety and security of  Britain and the people who live here. In order to protect this country, he has the power to deprive someone of their British citizenship where it would not render them stateless. We do not comment on individual cases, but any decisions to deprive individuals of their citizenship are based on all available evidence and not taken lightly.” 

Since then, Begum has been a topic of Nationality versus Ethnicity and what that means for People of Colour (PoC). Simultaneously, amongst the racist discourse, there were pockets of discussions around the treatment of ethnic victims of grooming and English victims.

Would a 15-year-old English girl be held accountable to this extreme for joining a terrorist organisation after being groomed for a long period of time? Rightfully so, there was outrage when English girls were groomed in Bradford in 2019 and this case lead to an increase in preventative organisations of sexual exploitation; this is necessary for protecting young children from grooming. 

However, the issue lies in that Begum was villainized for being ideologically groomed by people of the same skin colour. There is a distinction in the way we, as a society treat physical abuse and intellectual abuse where the latter is assumed to have little to no ramifications.

Human Rights and British Citizenship: The Case of Shamima Begum

In the case of  Shamima Begum, it is evident that intellectual abuse is rife, overlooked, and must be addressed by organisations and social groups. The engagement of citizens through education, political thought, and open discussions are preventative methods to the spread of misinformation.

In turn, we would have a stronger sense of identity and ideological disasters which root in uneducated organisations could be curbed. Nevertheless, this incident shines a light on two issues that the minority community deals with in the current socio-political climate.

The natural instinct to socialise has led  People of Colour to abandon their cultural and personal values and adopt aspects that represent an outdated ‘Britishness’.  

Natural Instincts

Human beings are naturally social creatures, and they depend on each other to establish a sense of identity; Aristotle is open about the dependency we have on each other.

In the fear or face of rejection, it is natural for the individual to want to change themselves in order to feel accepted. I do not feel that this is a weakness per se, but a human instinct.

British PoC feels a necessity to alter their identity and personality to become palatable to the average English British person which often involves replacing their own behaviours to mimic the English way of living.

Shamima portrays the need to change her appearance to gain sympathy from the British regarding her case. Instead of finding confidence or a feeling of identity in her appearance, Ms. Begum removes her hijab, dyes, and straightens her hair. She surrounded herself with pillows, teddy bears, and memorabilia depicting the British flag across her accommodation.

These weren’t present in her initial plea to the UK in 2019, however, she accepts that this image is weaponised by the media.  Hence, these accessories were added to her most recent plea.

What does this say about the security PoC feels towards their Britishness? It presents weakness and insecurity, a need to prove that they are in fact British, despite being born and raised in the UK.

New report by Muslim Youth Helpline reveals the mental health struggle of many young British Muslims

If we refer to Rousseau’s The Social Contract, a bond between citizens was expected to come from ‘distinctive practices, in religious ceremonies’ etc, things which were exclusive and national to a  community. This cannot be applied in a diverse environment like London; multiple religious and distinct practices exist between multiple micro-communities.

Rousseau continues that we find bonds created from spectacles to remind the citizens of their history, ancestors, shared ideas, and misfortunes. London has a rich history because it was built on the back of imperialism and migrants from the British Colonies; from the Caribbean, North America, and multiple countries of Africa, and  South Asia.

The bonds to shared values and behaviours which are expected to come from the aforementioned experiences and ideas, struggle to be formed, thus the vogue political-philosophical ideas of unity between a nation, or, community need to be reevaluated.  

A communal sense of British identity or image that could represent a diverse London is necessary to overcome the convoluted understanding of what it means to be British.

Freud speculates that  ‘communal life becomes possible only when a majority comes together that is stronger than any  individual and presents a united front against every individual’ (p. 41.) Perhaps in an era where the inhabitants of a single nation have different histories, experiences, and values; it appears impossible to clamp down on a single representation of a citizen from London, or England.

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This resonates with Freud’s comment that it is ‘difficult to keep oneself free from certain ideal requirements and to  grasp what pertains to civilisation in general.’ (p. 40) These requirements constantly evolve as the demographic grows.

Another phrase that reflects this idea is that “It takes a village to raise a  child”; the way everyone teaches, supports, and welcomes a child is instrumental in their growth and what kind of identity they adopt. When reflecting on these two ideas, one could say that the child born in a state would have a greater sense of belonging, shared experiences, and identity with the country rather than a migrant.

But in reality, even London-born PoC face obstacles in making meaningful connections without sacrificing some part of their identity and sense of self. It is illogical to assume that all of the philosophical ideas which support the development of a  community are outdated; it is sensible to reevaluate the defining ideas and recognise the fluidity of connection to self and community.  

Rabindranath Tagore’s ideas in Nationalism resonate here the most when he outlines that the social contract’s version of nationhood is outdated and is an ‘end in itself. It is a natural regulation of human relationships so that men can develop ideals of life in co-operation with one another.  (Tagore, Nationalism, p. 38.)

Identity and a connection between a community and self is fluid,  something that needs evolving and open discussions. By uncovering the different perspectives  PoC has on this relation to self and community with logos, – which I intend to portray through the performance, the internal conflicting worried micro-communities have can be tackled through logical reasoning rather than feelings of insecurity and emancipation. We can recognise the role of a  collective in the way people are treated, included, and represented.  

My question remains, what does this say about the security PoC feels towards their Britishness? Who belongs in British society? 

Opinion: Shamima Begum, ISIS Brides, and Human Rights in the UK

The reaction to Begum from the general public is found in articles published by The Guardian,  showing the range of views regarding the threat of Begum to this country. This revolves around whether she is adjusted to British values and experiences since her departure 5 years prior.

I wonder whether the 15 years in Britain or the 5 years in Syria have been influential on her true values and beliefs?

A thought experiment that outlines the absurdity of the idea of Ms. Begum not possessing any sense of British identity is found if we change her ethnicity to English. Suddenly, it seems illogical to reassign a citizen of one’s country to that of their ancestors after being groomed by an extremist group as a teenager. Especially if this English girl has no personal connection to the country in question. An American citizenship cannot be passed over to a UK citizenship, even if their ancestors were British once upon a time.  

The stance of security of a nation against a citizen, or ex-citizen as the Home Office would say, feels offensive to the citizens of the UK with an ethnic background. Similar to convicts who cause terror through their crimes in the UK are enrolled in resettlement programmes to amend their wrongs, it feels fit that Ms. Begum should receive something similar instead of this complete revoke.

The bottom line is, that the rights and protection a citizen receives from their place of birth should remain intact when the person in question goes astray.  

If we want to answer the question above, using the social contract, considering that this multicultural city carries people of various experiences, values, and memories it seems like there are superficial factors which make create bonds.

Regarding Begum, the media’s response fluctuated as her appearance changed from the fully covered, Niqabi girl who did not resemble the average  British 21-year-old. There was a sentiment that Begum did not look like ‘us’, therefore it was less of a radical move to remove her citizenship and pass her over to Bangladesh, where people look like her.

A present-day comparison is found in the way Ukrainian refugees are treated and supported to migrate to Britain through a “bespoke humanitarian route” whereas, in December 2021, 27 Syrian refugees drowned in the English Channel whilst Border Force and UK officers work to turn back refugees at sea.

A clear explanation for this was the simple fact that the Ukrainians are European and ‘more like us’. 

Does image determine a right to statehood?

The shift in the image between the Shamima the UK saw in early 2019 and in 2021 can be used as a  window to the insecurities of the Asian community regarding their place in British society. 

Minorities change their values and appearance to prove their sincerity of ‘British-ness’ and this is what Shamima portrays. The first introduction of Ms. Begum to the world: A Niqabi 21-year-old who mourns the loss of her two children with a newborn in her arms. Her slim build and deep eye bags with a lowered gaze which shows signs of distress and regret are not relatable to the British public.

Perhaps one could even go as far as to say it was not palatable to see a person who does not  ‘look’ British in mourning and pleading to be accepted by the Government and country. The transition from a fully covered, anxious, and absent persona in 2019 to the westernized, skin-bearing, and well-groomed girl in 2021 was drastic. In a recent picture of her, we see a girl who looks closer to being 21 than she did in 2019 with her dyed straightened hair, painted orange nails, tank top,  jeans, with a hat on top.  

What does this suggest?  

The PR decision to change her appearance was not just for aesthetics but a presentation of her desperation to over-perform to convince the Nation for pity and acceptance as a citizen, despite being British-born and a victim of ideological grooming and physical abuse.

Instead of recognising the blaring mental turmoil which demands support and treatment, the British public and government overlook their ethical responsibility to grant support via acceptance and then treatment to unravel and undo the ideological grooming she was victim to. Instead, Shamima has no choice but to use the loss of her children, family, friends, and citizenship to get sympathy. 

In other cases, we find a desperation for British-born minorities to merge as much of the Christian English culture into their everyday lives, even if it means by sacrificing religious or cultural values. This is found in the manner Muslim families celebrate Christmas and Halloween, especially in those who purchase Christmas trees and gifts to feel that sense of unity with the rest of the country.  

It is necessary to highlight the visual changes made to understand the extent of the insecurities felt by British-born PoC in regards to ‘fitting in’ to look ‘more like us’. Despite the absence of a set criteria on how a coloured, cultured or religious person should change their values and image, it feels like an unspoken fact that we simply need to look and act ‘White’, or ‘English’.

As per my previous points, a set contemporary concept of ‘British’ values and experiences does not exist, there is a simple assumption that to fit in to be British means to behave English, despite the diverse demographic of the country and London in specific.  

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